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Costa Stays Alive in Five; Hewitt Doesn't

Defending champion erases two-set deficit to beat cramping Lapentti; top-seeded Australian squanders two-set lead and falls to Robredo.

June 01, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — When Nicolas Lapentti felt the twinges, felt his thighs clench and ticklish bits of pain tap his consciousness, he drank as much liquid as his stomach could hold.

When Lapentti began to lose his breath from the pain, as the ticklish taps became surges of agony, he asked for the trainer, who came with bags of ice for his neck and his legs and little pills to replace the salt.

When the pain began to make Lapentti think the unthinkable, about quitting his third-round French Open match against the defending champion, Albert Costa, Lapentti quit thinking and began hitting desperate shots -- crazy drop shots, between-the-leg lobs. He was making them too, but Lapentti couldn't hit them enough.

The crowd was on his side. Costa had been, in their eyes and in Lapentti's, a bad sport by complaining to the umpire that Lapentti, with his cramping and his limping, was taking too much time between points.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 04, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
French Open -- Albert Costa defeated Nicolas Lapentti, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, in the third round of the French Open on Saturday, despite losing the first two sets and being down, 4-1, in the fifth set. It was reported incorrectly in a Sports article Sunday that Costa was down, 4-1, in the third set.

"I just didn't think that's very nice from him," Lapentti said later, "because he knew I was in pain and he kept pushing the umpire to call time."

But the umpire didn't need to call time and Costa didn't need to cajole. The cramps did the work Costa had been unable to do. Lapentti could only watch, as Costa hit easy winners past his immobile opponent.

For the third consecutive match, Costa had taken every bit of five sets to survive and advance. Costa had lost the first two sets and was down, 4-1, in the third, but after 4 hours 38 minutes, it was Costa who raised his weary hands in triumph, a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 winner over the dejected Lapentti.

There were five-setters all over Roland Garros on Saturday.

Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, who is quite open about his discomfort with playing on clay, squandered a two-set lead and a 3-0 advantage in the fifth set and fell to Spain's Tommy Robredo, 4-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

And 30th-seeded Jarkko Nieminen became only the second Finnish player to reach the round of 16 in a Grand Slam tournament by beating Romanian qualifier Victor Hanescu, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Joining Robredo and Costa in moving to the final 16 were Spanish countrymen Juan Carlos Ferrero and Felix Mantilla. Ferrero, the 2002 runner-up and seeded third, beat 25th-seeded Tim Henman, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2; Mantilla, seeded 20th, defeated yet another Spaniard, Fernando Vicente, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3. On Friday, fourth-seeded Carlos Moya had won. So five Spanish men are left in the draw.

Lapentti, 26, who splits his time between his native Ecuador and Miami, said he will regret losing his lead and his handle on this match in the fourth set.

"This match is going to be in my memory," he said, "because of two things. I should have closed it out in the fourth set, I should have won it. But also because of the way the crowd supported me, and the ovation I had when I left the court.

"Someday I would like to see the tape. It's going to be nice."

Lapentti also hit the shot of the tournament -- a backward, between-the-legs lob from behind the baseline that sailed over Costa and landed just inside the baseline. Costa's eyes got wide in amazement and the crowd was wild.

Before that shot, Lapentti said, he had heard Costa say, "I'm playing the worst tennis of my life." Lapentti said that was insulting, "not nice." After the lob landed, Lapentti went to his supporters and motioned with his fingers, "That's the way to shut his mouth."

But it didn't win the match. "I think I lost too much energy after that point," Lapentti said.

In three matches, Costa has played 11 hours 56 minutes of tennis over 15 sets and 148 games.

"Today," Costa said, "I was thinking I was finished in this tournament. If I have to keep playing matches like this, I don't know how far I can go."

Costa also said he wasn't doing anything but trying to get the chair umpire to enforce the rule of 20 seconds between points when he felt Lapentti was stalling. "He was trying to recover," Costa said. "That's perfectly normal. It's up to the referee to say, 'You've got 20 seconds.' Lapentti was taking 35 or even 40 seconds."

Hewitt, who hasn't gotten past the quarterfinals in five tries here, said his serving rhythm was out of whack and that "I just took my foot off the pedal a little bit at the start of the third and fourth sets. He probably played too well at the start of the third. At the start of the fourth, I had a few chances to go up a break and I didn't take them."

Robredo, 21, has never lost a five-set match. And he has never been happier about a win, no matter how long it took. "Beating the world No. 1 like this," Robredo said, "I think it's the best thing I can imagine."



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